By Claire Walla
With the state’s two-percent tax levy cap looming over the upcoming budget season, the Sag Harbor School District has decided to get a head start on financial discussions, kicking off its budget discussions nearly eight weeks ahead of last year’s schedule.
On Monday, November 28, just before the district’s regularly scheduled business meeting, school board members were privy to the first of six budget workshops, this one focusing on the district’s business office.
According to District Business Manager Janet Verneuille, the department’s projected budget for the 2012-2013 school year will increase by 4.8 percent over this year’s operating budget, or about $59,000.
The majority of the overall budget increase for this department is tied to business administration salaries, a line item expected to see an increase of about $38,400 for next year. Verneuille noted that the increase largely accounts for two part-time employees—as well as contractual increases that include financial projections for some staff members potentially joining a collective bargaining unit, and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a senior account clerk—and a three-percent raise that Verneuille has factored in for every non-union employee.
“I think it’s fair,” Verneuille said. A three-percent raise, she explained, splits the difference between two extremes: adhering to the district’s financial strains and recognizing the fact that unionized secretarial support staff is set to see five- to seven-percent raises scheduled for next year.
This budget increase also accounts for the fact that the business department is moving more services in-house.
“For years [schools’] financial statements were done by auditors,” Verneuille explained, adding that this practice changed in 2004 when the Roslyn school district on Long Island was found to have misused about $11 million worth of taxpayer dollars. “After Roslyn, one of the things that changed is that outside auditors can’t do district financials.”
The business department has thus spent money on higher salaried staff members, and now employs two in-house CPAs (including Verneuille).
“There are some hefty increases in expenses for the business office,” Verneuille explained.
However, Verneuille stressed that this section of the budget — which also includes the board of education, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance — currently only accounts for about 3.5 percent of the district’s overall budget.
In addition to salary increases, the preliminary budget also accounts for increases to public information (up from $32,000 to $55,000) and increases to legal fees (up from $130,000 to $149,500). Verneuille said the budget is higher for these line items in anticipation of upcoming events, namely the school’s proposed bond measure and teachers’ contract negotiations with the teaching assistants, custodians and secretarial unions.